Space jam: Astronomy foundation has issues with iRobot’s robotic lawn mower

irobots lawn mower runs into trouble with the nrao grass clippings
Jason Vandehey / Shutterstock
If it’s nice where you live this weekend, you might be eyeing your mower with weary look, wishing you had a robotic solution to your grass problem. A filing with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission hints that iRobot, the creator of the Roomba, could be moving forward with plans to make a robotic lawnmower. Not everyone is happy with the news, specifically, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

According to the FCC filing, iRobot’s proposed mower uses a series of small wireless beacons that operate in the 6240-6740 megahertz range. Users drive them into the ground at the beginning of mowing season, so the device knows the yard boundaries, according to IEEE Spectrum. The NRAO uses the same megahertz range to view the spectral signature of methanol in space, which creates a problem.

iRobot needed to file for a waiver with the commission for its beacons, which require more than the FCC allows for a “fixed outdoor infrastructure.” Since then, the NRAO has voiced its concerns. The foundation has suggested that iRobot use a geolocation feature to keep the beacons from affecting its work, according to IEEE.

“iRobot is constantly exploring and developing new practical robotic solutions that are designed to improve our everyday lives – both inside and outside of the home,” a company spokesperson told Digital Trends. “The FCC waiver is related to one of iRobot’s ongoing technology development initiatives and addresses the lawn mowing category. When it comes to specifics, though, it’s iRobot’s policy not to comment on unannounced products or technologies.” 

This wouldn’t be the first robot mower to hit the market. The RS 630 from Robomow, for instance, already offers to do the chore for you. This robot can mow various heights of grass, and it can be programmed to run on a specific schedule.

That being said, the iRobot version may require less preparation, which would give it an edge on the competition. For now, robotic mowers require users to run wires around their yard, creating a boundary that the device can detect and won’t cross while it cuts the grass, sort of like an invisible fence for pets.

But in order for iRobot’s mower to surpass its competition in the market, it first needs to get past the NRAO.

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